by George Banker, Karen Mitchell, Clay Shaw
Editor’s Note: We were quite pleased to feature Brent Weigner, a friend for many decades, in this month’s Runner’s Gazette, and we sure appreciate the time he spent answering our many questions. (We also say thank you to RG’s George Banker for preparing, posing, and compiling the questions and answers.)
I believe we first met Brent at the Wyoming Marathon (Brent was the race director) when Clay was working on his first go round of running a marathon in each of the 50 states. Clay won the marathon that year. We’ve kept in touch through the years and met Brent and his wife, Sue Hume, at several events, notably the Midnight Sun Marathon in the northern reaches of Canada (450 miles north of the Arctic Circle) and the Haile (Gebrselassie) Marathon in Ethiopia.
Brent finished the 50 states and DC, plus all of the Canadian provinces and territories, a long time ago. In recent years, he has focused on running a marathon in all of the countries of the world!!! As of this date, between marathons plus 57 ultras, he’s completed not only 359 total, but also an incredible 184 countries!! In 2021 there are 195 total countries in the world (United Nations list). There is also an ISO list of countries (you can find it online), and Brent is running many of the countries that are on the ISO list in addition to the 195. His goal is 200+.
Follow along below with the text and photos. We believe, like us, you’ll find Brent’s thoughts poignant, inspiring, self-deprecating, and sometimes downright funny.
Karen Mitchell and Clay Shaw
When did you first realize that you had developed a love for the sport?
I don’t know exactly when, but I was a little boy. We played games like hide and seek, ditch them, and kick the can. We would just make up other games that we could play if we were moving. I discovered several years later that part of my desire to move was due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I had trouble sitting still. Even today I rock back in my chair. I am always feeling like I need to move and go run another event or a race or just get out and enjoy the world Mother Nature has provided.
Was there a person who motivated you?
No one motivated me or inspired me to run. During grade school we played several different sports. I liked field day when we got to do different activities. I played Little League Baseball and Little League Football. We learned square dancing, took swim lessons, and participated in many other activities. I guess I didn’t need motivation or inspiration to run. When people ask me why I run, I ask them why do birds fly and fish swim? That is just what we do. No explanation is necessary.
At what age did you start?
I started serious competition when I got to Cheyenne Central High School (Wyoming) in 1965.
How was the sport at that time?
In the 1960’s girls did not run distance races; only the boys were allowed. There was no girls’ cross-country team. We could enter road races in Colorado for $5. I loved road racing, cross country, trail racing, outdoor track, and my least favorite was indoor track. After I graduated in 1968, I worked as a counselor-in-training at Olympia Sport Village in northern Wisconsin a few miles south of Upson. I had been a 400-meter (51.9) and 800-meter (2:01.3, school record at the time) runner in high school. One of the other counselors said we should travel to southern Wisconsin because the city of Whitewater was having a marathon. I said okay and to this day that has been the hardest marathon I have ever run from a pain standpoint. With my track speed, I just thought I would go out and win it. I went through 20 miles in 2 hours and was in the hunt.
Unfortunately, back in those days we did not use gel packs, take electrolytes, or drink Gatorade, and we did not know how to take care of ourselves. I started getting cramps all over my body – triceps, biceps, hamstrings, and quads. I thought I might be having a seizure and was going to die, so I laid down alongside the road in a ditch waiting for a car to pick me up. However, it was a rural marathon and there were no cars there. And when I laid down, I started having so many cramps that I thought, “Oh my gosh; I must keep moving.” I got up and walked the last 10K very slowly, shuffling along, and it took me one hour and 53 minutes to cover 6.2 miles. My finish time was 3 hours and 53 minutes which some people thought was rather good for a high school kid. The next day I could hardly go up and down stairs without crawling on all fours, because my calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps were still in serious pain. I also had black toenails, blisters, and the feeling of destruction to my body. Despite the pain and suffering, I was hooked.
Some start with one marathon and that is it. In your case the last count 359. How did you get the fever?
My fever for running continued and I tried to run at least one marathon a year. In 1969 I ran the Denver Marathon and finished with a time of 3:30. The following year I ran two marathons and got my time down to 3:24. I ran the Pikes Peak Marathon in 5:41:31. I continued to be fascinated and challenged by longer runs, especially ultramarathons. I continued to run lots of marathons and ultramarathons and even multi-day stage races of 150 miles or more.
How did you manage your life with family, school, training, and racing?
I was single at this time and did not have too many family commitments, so I just kept running more and more events. In 1978 I organized the first-ever ultramarathon in Wyoming, the first ultramarathon in the Rocky Mountain region. I needed to qualify for the Western States 100 mile and to do that I needed to run a 50 mile. We ran the race from the courthouse in Laramie to the state capital in Cheyenne. There were only 14 starters and five finishers. I came in second with a time of 7:14:00. Every race I went to I would meet people who would give me ideas about other interesting clubs and events, so I started trying to run a marathon in every US state and Washington D.C.
After that, I decided I should run all the Canadian provinces and territories. Then I met guys with other clubs like the Marathon Maniacs, 50 states plus DC Club, the Marathon Globetrotters, the Country Marathon Club. I was just hoping to get some of them done before I died and I’m still kicking at the age of 71. I feel blessed and have such a grateful heart that I’m still able to do the running. My wife thinks I have a Guardian Angel that watches over me.
On January 9, 2020, I had major brain surgery and the surgeon removed a benign meningioma the size of a baseball from my brain. My neurosurgeon told me I would be able to run a marathon in two months, so I believed him and that is exactly what I did. I had not run for two months and I went to the island of Socotra in Yemen and walked and jogged the marathon in 5:51:55. My Guardian Angel was a surgical nurse from Toronto, Canada, and she was an ultrarunner. She set her watch for us to jog 10 minutes and walk one minute and we did that the entire way and she carried on and did 50 kilometers.
We were on the last flight out of Yemen before the COVID-19 lockdowns began.
Before I retired in 2010, I was a world geography teacher and I coached cross country, wrestling, and track. I needed to plan around those events to keep up with my training and racing. At the time girls could not run cross country or anything over 800 meters in track. I knew that was crazy reasoning and I founded the girls’ cross-country team at Cheyenne Central High School and McCormick junior high school. When I retired from teaching at McCormick my girls had the longest winning streak for any secondary school in the state of Wyoming. They had won the city and conference cross country championships for 32 years straight. I seriously doubt that record will ever be broken.
As a coach, I’ve been able to convince people they can do amazing things. One of my favorite cross country shirts looked like this: On the front, it said McCormick Cross Country. On the back, it read, “Cowards won’t show and the weak will die.” There was a picture of an Indian (native American) running with a tomahawk and a bow and arrow, which I thought was appropriate. Our school name was the McCormick Warriors, and I convinced the girls and the boys they were running warriors. I remember when the weather was bad I would have so much fun. I would tell them, “Remember guys, when the weather is too hot for everybody else it is exactly right for McCormick Warriors.”
Many of my athletes wanted additional competition after the season was over, so I started taking kids to Junior Olympic cross-country meets. We traveled all over the country to several national championships. In 1980 we were fortunate enough to host the National AAU Junior Olympic Cross-country Championships at the Little America Hotel Golf Course in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Some folks tried to take the championship away from us because they were worried about the elevation (6,062 feet) and the possibility of cold weather the second week in December. But the good Lord was smiling on us for race day. It was sunny, with no wind, and 62 degrees Fahrenheit. We had 1400 plus athletes from every state except one. The summer before the race I took my 17-18 girls’ team to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. We kept training through the summer and the fall. At the National Championship, my 17-18 girls team came in first and they were not even on the radar. They were so happy getting their trophies and their medals. They also had their team photo taken with gold medal swimmer John Nabor. They felt like their college career was just ahead of them. One of the girls who is still running today told me, “Coach, you’re the best because you brainwashed us into thinking we could do whatever we set our minds to.”
What holds a greater value, the time or the effort?
It’s not necessarily the time or the effort, but the traveling and the planning involved and the people I meet along the way.
What are the goals you set with each event you enter?
My goals are multifaceted because I count countries that I run in and different geographical areas. I also have an idea of my pace and what time I would like to run, especially since I’m in the over 70 age group and I am doing much better in terms of placing and winning various awards.
How has your approach changed with the aging process?
These days there are so many more events than when I was younger. People should not have a problem finding things that interest them, inspire them, and motivate them to get out and move. I tell people that running is overrated but movement is not. I think it was Martin Luther King that said, “If you can’t fly, run, if you can’t run walk, if you can’t walk crawl, if you can’t crawl just keep moving.”
Now I am so chronologically gifted, it thrills me because many times I am not only first in the race in my division. but also last. One of my friends tells me that it’s called a cheap and hollow (or “CH”), because you don’t have to race anybody in particular. However, I always race myself. In 2017 I ran marathons or ultramarathons in 38 different countries. I was always traveling and taking care of my body. How this was possible is because I mix in a lot of cross-training. I would get a massage once a week, do pool running once a week, and lift weights. I was only running 15 to 20 miles a week and was racing whenever I had a chance. To this day I still race 5ks, 10ks, half-marathons, and other distances just to get out and race. I am not that keen on training, but I love racing.
At what time will you know it will the time for the last run?
I don’t envision when it will be time for my last run. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to run in heaven, because the good Lord has kept me alive this long after several bouts with cancer, not to mention many other things that should have killed me.
What two events are at the top of your charts as being most gratifying?
Two events at the top of my chart for most gratifying? That is an impossible question to answer, because there are so many things that are gratifying on one level or another. It is kind of like asking me what was my favorite marathon? There are so many kinds of favorites. It can be your favorite from a course standpoint. It could be your favorite from a weather standpoint. It could be your favorite from a geography standpoint. It could be your favorite because the actual marathon trip itself allowed you to add other activities to a running vacation. For example, the day before the Two Oceans ultramarathon in Cape Town, South Africa, I went cage diving with great white sharks.
When I ran a marathon in Uganda I trekked into the jungle and interacted with mountain gorillas. When I ran the marathon in Dilli, East Timor, I spent time with crocodiles, snakes, and all kinds of interesting life forms. Did you know if you are snorkeling in the ocean two or three miles off the northern coast of Australia you can be killed by a saltwater crocodile?
Some of my other favorite marathons I liked because they are so dangerous and so remote. For example, I organized the one and only South Pole marathon on January 22, 2002. Because of the remote location and the danger involved it has not been repeated. I’m proud we were able to make that race happen. It all started after we had run a marathon on King George Island. We were having dinner on the boat and I was teasing one of my friends. I told him he could not count the marathon on King George island as Antarctica because it was not on the continent proper. One of my other friends said, “What are you going to do, run a marathon to the South Pole?” and I thought, “I bet we could do that.” It took me two years of contacting various race organizers and logistic companies to finally get the pieces in place where we could do the event.
Another two of my favorite marathons were the Mount Everest Marathon and the Everest Marathon. Other favorites Included marathons in Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Cuba, Haiti, and a few others most people would not consider.
What are the two events at the bottom of your chart?
I don’t have two events at the bottom of my chart. I am one of these guys whose glass can be empty, and I will think it is half full. There is no good and bad in marathon running. It is different, and it depends on what you make of it and whether you have an attitude of gratitude and feel blessed that you can run.
How have you managed injuries?
I have had so many injuries ever since I was a little kid and they continue today in one form or another. Some of them have not affected my running but other parts of my life. I am a five-time cancer survivor. When I was 12 years old, I had lymphoma and received lots of radiation and chemotherapy. I have also had my left Parotid Gland removed because of cancer. During the surgery, they had to scrape my trigeminal nerve to remove the cancer cells. The various other surgeries were skin cancers. I have had a couple of basil skin cell skin cancers removed. I have had a squamous cell cancer removed, and most recently this year I had a Melanoma removed off the back of my neck.
In terms of feet and leg injuries, it is a long list. I had a neuroma on my right foot surgically removed and I have had a big toenail on my left foot surgically removed. I have had injections into my left Achilles when I developed tendonitis. Both my hands have been carved on and surgeries done to straighten out my fingers, because I have a condition known as Dupuytren’s Contracture. On my left hand, the little finger has started curling up again. I researched the condition and found out it affects people with Scottish roots and ancestry. It can also affect, not just hands, but toes and of all things, penises in men. I prayed, “Lord you can curl anything you want, but I need my toes working properly.”
When I was in college, I knocked out my front teeth while skiing and they installed a bridge. I also chipped a couple of my bottom teeth and they are capped. I cannot whistle anymore. The only broken bones I have had in my body are fingers. I broke my right little finger playing dodgeball in 6th grade. This year I broke my left middle finger running a trail race at Curt Gowdy State Park. I am trying to avoid trail races because I don’t want to fall. I have Dropfoot. I have a herniated disc or a bulging disc in my back and it nailed the nerve canal going down to my left foot. Fortunately, the nerves came back with lots of rehab and therapy, and now I can flex my foot about 50 to 60% when I run, but it still slaps the ground and I have to be careful about speed bumps and different hazards on the surface of the course.
Of course, every runner has injuries of some kind or another if they run for several years. You can have muscle pulls, tendon strains, and broken bones from falling. I mean, there are all kinds of injuries out there waiting for you. The trick I think is not looking at it as a bad thing. I look at it as a nuisance and just something that gets in the way. I don’t dwell on the significance of the so-called injury. I try to learn from the injury. I like a quote by Jean-Paul Sarte when he said something like, that which does not kill me makes me stronger. I believe I am living proof of that.
What words can you share with a young athlete starting in the sport?
Having coached for 35 plus years, I tried to convince my athletes to listen to their bodies. We have what we call the 10% rule in terms of training, not just running. Whatever you are doing, do not increase it by more than 10% a week and make sure you are taking rest days once a week, but get some kind of exercise – don’t just run. Walking is extremely important especially if you are going to become an ultramarathon runner. My friend and I ran the first-ever Leadville 100 Mile Trail Race in 1983. It was an out and back over Hope Pass with the turn-around at the ghost town of Winfield. We agreed to never run more than 20 minutes at a time and to walk a little, and to never run the steep up-hills or the steep downhill. We were sitting in the Golden Burro restaurant in Leadville when the starting gun went off. We were just a short distance from the starting line, so I told Mark we better get moving. We were a few minutes late getting started and when we got to the first checkpoint the guy said, “You guys better get moving or you’re going to miss the cut-offs.”
At that time, we were in the last two places 42nd and 43rd. As we progressed through the mountains and over Winfield pass to the turn-around, we had moved up to 21st and 22nd. We had agreed to stay together until the second time over Hope Pass. I told Mark he could go ahead and leave me, because I was going to take it easy. (I was leading a mountain race series in Saratoga in which I had to race a 30K six days later.) The cutoff time was 30 hours and we finished in fifth and 10th place out of the 44 starters. Only ten of us finished, and all who finished lived in cities a mile or higher in elevation. The point being is walking is important.
Is there any mental preparation that you go through before each event?
I do not think mental preparation is necessarily as important as physical preparation and planning your strategy. Do you run with a bum bag or pouch? Do you carry some type of power gel with you, so you eat every 45 minutes to an hour? Do you have electrolytes, and do you take one every 45 minutes to an hour? Are you drinking enough water and mixing in enough walking at the aid stations? Are you listening to your body and making sure you are monitoring what is happening? Are you sweating too much or feeling lightheaded and are you tripping or tumbling? Most important of all, are you staying positive and realizing that this too shall pass? When I get really trashed and I am just doing big-time suffering, I always think I’ll make a deal with the Lord. God if you pick ‘em up, I’ll put ‘em down and so I think maybe that has worked in my case. As many of you know, the brain believes what you tell it. If you are a positive person, a good attitude, a good heart, a strong powerful body, and a blessed soul, you can accomplish anything. I used to indoctrinate (brainwash) my cross-country kids and tell them if they hung out with me for very long, they would start believing they could do anything.
What obstacles have you faced with running events in other countries?
Oh my gosh, I could write a book about this question, because there are so many types of obstacles. You have concerns about the travel, the airports, the language, the money, the culture, the religion, and where the country is located. And there are many kinds of dangers. I recently wrote a chapter for a book called Country Marathon Collecting, published by the Marathon Country Club. There are many types of dangers, like the elevation and weather of the Everest Marathon or the remoteness of and the cold of the South Pole Marathon, which has only been run once because of the dangerous temperatures. Other concerns in parts of the world include dealing with wild animals, snakes, and poisonous insects.
You have dangers associated with physical disasters such as hurricanes, floods, mountain slides, tsunami’s, earthquakes, etc. There are cultural dangers such as wars, riots, revolutions, famines, starvation, insurgencies, guerrilla warfare, and so on. My marathon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, had its dangers. An earthquake had destroyed much of the country, causing damage to infrastructure, hunger, and some issues and unrest.
What is your philosophy when it comes to the sport?
My philosophy depends on what, where, and how I’m going to run. I love competition and challenging myself in different ways: a short race – 5K or 10K, a marathon, 50K, 50-mile, 100-mile, or a 150-mile stage race. I’ve done six stage races across some of the world’s great deserts; the Atacama in northern Chile, the Sahara in Egypt, the Gobi in China, and Antarctica. (Yes, Antarctica is a desert.) Like me, your philosophy depends on what you focus on. Some focus on running all the US states; some on running as many marathons as they can in a certain time frame. Some people focus on running vacations where the run or the marathon is just part of the total experience. One of my favorite running experiences was a marathon cruise with Z Adventures where we ran a marathon in a new country every day while in the Caribbean. With the COVID-19 lockdown in place, some of my friends around the world have been highly creative in running marathons. One of my friends in Lagos, Nigeria, ran a marathon on her balcony. A Polish friend of mine moved his bed into the middle of his bedroom and ran a marathon around his bed. So, when people tell me I’m crazy, my response is, “You have no idea.”
Only you can make your dreams come true. It is not about whether you deserve this or are entitled to that. It is about you making it happen and following your dreams. My father used to say that luck is when preparation meets opportunity, and I have used that expression my whole life. When one door closes, others open if you have a good attitude and hold yourself accountable for the way your life is going. It is the choices you make and how you respond when life gives you hardships. Save yourself and along the way, try to help people who cannot help themselves.
What has been your best marathon time (date/place)?
My personal best was the Boston Marathon on April 16, 1979, where I ran 2 hours 45 minutes and 50 seconds.
Do you learn from events where your effort and time do not equal?
I learn from every marathon I run. It is not just about getting out there and starting your Garmin. There are many considerations if you are planning to try to set a personal record. For example, did you rest enough before the big day? Did you drink enough during the race? Did you take your power gel and your electrolyte tablets? Had you greased body parts that could chafe and get sore? Did you dress properly? Had you trained in your race-day shoes? Did you preview the course? Did you plan your pace based on hills, dangerous areas, rivers to cross, swamps to go through, animals to avoid, etc. etc. There will always be problems and you should be anticipating them.
What was the average weekly mileage at the peak of your training?
When I was younger and doing long events such as the Western States 100 Mile the Leadville 100 mile, I would train anywhere from 100 to 150 miles a week. When I did the Four Deserts with Racing the Planet, I would run 150 miles in a week.
To maintain your level of fitness today what is the optimum weekly mileage?
Nowadays I only train about 10 to 20 miles a week because of all the cross-training I do. However, when I run a marathon obviously that mileage gets jacked up to 40 to 50 miles for that week.
What is a typical reaction when you tell a person how marathons you have run?
I have not run that many marathons – only 359 marathons and ultras (57 ultras) as of February 5, 2021. I’ve completed a marathon in 184 different countries.
People react a different way when I tell them that. One guy told me he knew the name of a good therapist. Somebody else quipped: Is your wife going to change the locks on the door? And I’ve heard: You must have a lot of money to be able to fly around the world and visit all these countries and run these events. Is it worth it?
I tell them I am blessed to be married to a great woman and she is the wind beneath my wings. She is the one who allowed me to go marathon crazy in 2017 when I ran marathons in 38 different countries. Since then, we have come to a mutual understanding that I should only do one international marathon a month and I should not be gone for longer than 10 days at a time. If I violate that verbal contract, then I must spoil her and take her on a fancy trip or for special nights at a five-star hotel. That works for me. I am just a simple guy with a running problem. I think I’m a recovering teenager, because there’re only three occasions when I run: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. What I do not spend on running, traveling, and beer, I just waste.
Categories: Athlete Profiles